Bring on the dotmocracy
Does any community do a worse job of apportioning its Columbia Basin Trust funding than Nelson? If so, I’d like to see it. On second thought, no I wouldn’t.
It’s not the outcome, but the process that stinks.
Contrast the scene Monday night in council chambers — where councillors struggled for over two hours to divide $126,400 among 50 groups and projects — with Salmo, where residents played a direct role in the decision-making and the whole thing was done in an hour.
Due to heavy oversubscription, there were bound to be winners and losers in Nelson, but at the end of the night, the sheer arbitrariness of the process and amount of horse-trading left me with a bad taste.
While councillors came armed with a matrix indicating their favourite projects, ultimately it only winnowed the applications with little or no chance of succeeding, and did nothing to resolve the thornier problem of who gets how much.
The decision-making process is messy, time consuming, and prone to last-minute wrangling. Council was more likely to fully fund projects discussed early in the evening while they were feeling generous than those that came up later as the well began to run dry. (Your opinion of the outcome will likely be influenced by whether your favourite group got what it asked for.)
In a unique approach, Nelson sets aside 35 per cent of its funding for cultural projects and empanels a local jury to deliberate on those applications and bring forth recommendations, which council can accept or ignore. (Full disclosure: I was a juror last year.)
However, only councillor Donna Macdonald appeared to have read the jurors’ notes explaining why they felt certain projects should receive less funding than requested or none at all.
Which isn’t to denigrate the organizations that were successful. There isn’t a bad project among them, even if lots were left out.
But in Salmo, the process was over lickity split, with less room for recriminations.
It’s one of several places in the Columbia Basin (others include Winlaw, New Denver, Nakusp, and Area E of the Regional District of Central Kootenay) that get the community directly involved.
People arrive at a meeting, hear brief pitches from organizations seeking funding, and vote for the projects they want to support.
In the Salmo example, residents are issued a handful of dots, each with a dollar value determined by the total amount up for grabs and the number of people who show up.
Each person divides their dots among the projects as they see fit. More dots means more funding. No project receives more than it requests; any excess increases the value of all the other dots.
This dotmocracy, as it’s sometimes called, is not without drawbacks: an organization with more members is likely to receive more votes — although a larger membership is arguably an indicator of greater community support. I also think groups that get the vote out should be entitled to the benefit of their enterprise.
For a city council, trying to divide money amongst community groups is in many ways unenviable and thankless. They are bound to be second guessed no matter what they decide.
But it’s harder to argue with the collective wisdom of several hundred people — which is why Nelson should switch to a direct participation method.
With a larger population than other communities that presently employ it, it may be more difficult to administer here, but it would still be better than what happened Monday night. Agonized decision-making doesn’t necessarily result in better decisions.